Low-level lead exposure and elevations in blood pressure during pregnancy

Ellen M. Wells, Ana Navas-Acien, Julie B. Herbstman, Benjamin J. Apelberg, Ellen K. Silbergeld, Kathleen L. Caldwell, Robert L. Jones, Rolf Halden, Frank R. Witter, Lynn R. Goldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Lead exposure is associated with elevated blood pressure during pregnancy; however, the magnitude of this relationship at low exposure levels is unclear. Objectives: Our goal was to determine the association between low-level lead exposure and blood pressure during late pregnancy. Methods: We collected admission and maximum (based on systolic) blood pressures during labor and delivery among 285 women in Baltimore, Maryland. We measured umbilical cord blood lead using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Multivariable models were adjusted for age, race, median household income, parity, smoking during pregnancy, prepregnancy body mass index, and anemia. These models were used to calculate benchmark dose values. Results: Geometric mean cord blood lead was 0.66 μ μg/dL (95% confidence interval, 0.61-0.70). Comparing blood pressure measurements between those in the highest and those in the lowest quartile of lead exposure, we observed a 6.87-mmHg (1.51-12.21 mmHg) increase in admission systolic blood pressure and a 4.40-mmHg (0.21-8.59 mmHg) increase in admission diastolic blood pressure after adjustment for confounders. Corresponding values for maximum blood pressure increase were 7.72 (1.83-13.60) and 8.33 (1.14-15.53) mmHg. Benchmark dose lower limit values for a 1-SD increase in blood pressure were < 2 μg/dL blood lead for all blood pressure end points. Conclusions: A significant association between low-level lead exposures and elevations in maternal blood pressure during labor and delivery can be observed at umbilical blood lead levels < 2 μg/dL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)664-669
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Benchmark dose
  • Blood pressure
  • Hypertension
  • Lead
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk assessment
  • Umbilical cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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